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Can iPod Touch Find a Home in the Enterprise?


I have a confession to make. I love my iPod Touch. It’s simply the best way to listen to music on the go or to watch a film when I’m stuck on a long flight. What it hasn’t been, though, is a useful work tool.

That was then. This is now.

First, on Jan. 15, Apple added a new set of software programs to the Touch. For office purposes, the most important one is its full-featured e-mail client. With it, you can use essentially any kind of e-mail server and the client can also download and display PDF, Microsoft Word and Excel files.

In addition, even before Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol support arrives in June’s iPod/iPhone 2.0 firmware release, the Touch also already has Outlook calendar and contact support. E-mail, calendaring and addresses, those three things alone, are enough to make the Touch a work machine.

There’s more, much more, coming, though. IBM has already announced that it will be bringing Lotus Notes e-mail to the iPhone and the Touch. You should also keep in mind that the iPhone SDK (software development kit) is also the Touch SDK. So whenever an ISV builds an application for the iPhone, it will automatically also run on the Touch.

Those ISVs, by the way, are not going to need to be Apple development experts. If Sun Microsystems has its way, Java developers will be able to build applications for the iPhone and Touch as well. Sun informally announced March 7 that it will be porting a JVM (Java Virtual Machine) based on JME (Java Micro Edition) to the Apple’s I-platforms.

Those developers are going to have a lot of business functionality to work with. The 2.0 firmware will include support for push e-mail, push calendar, push contacts, global address list, support for Cisco IPsec VPN (Virtual Private Network), certificates and identities, the WPA 2/802.1x Wi-Fi security standard, enforced security policies, mass device configuration, and remote wipe.

Companies like 1stWorks Corp. are already preparing programs that will make use of this functionality. 1stWorks will shortly announce Files2Phones Access Server-Enterprise Edition. This server-based iPhone/iPod Touch application will enable corporate users to access their desktop files securely via the VPN. With iPod Touch now having up to 32GBs of storage, file synchronization between desktops, servers and the Touch can’t be far behind.

There’s only one thing that the iPod Touch lacks that the iPhone has: voice. That, however, is changing as well.

Apple has announced that it won’t stop VOIP (voice over IP) on the Touch. That’s a good thing because VOIP developers have already made VOIP applications like SHAPE’s IM+ for Skype, which is a voice-in/text-out solution and’s SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) VOIP app. Now, with Apple’s approval of VOIP for touch, I expect Touch VOIP development will explode.

The downside of this is that you can only use voice over Wi-Fi. On the other hand, you won’t need to pay AT&T for your in-office phone calls. Given how Wi-Fi has become an established standard at business hotels and conference centers, I can easily see VOIP-equipped Touch replacing cell phones for some users.

I have always thought that the iPod Touch had the makings of a powerful business device. Now I know it will become one. And, I, for one, will be delighted to have my favorite mobile toy become my favorite mobile work helper.

A version of this story was first published in eWEEK.

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